We had the chance to speak with Sky McLean, the CEO and founder of Basecamp Resorts, who shared her experience as an entrepreneur with us. We also talked about how to find investors strategically, how she turned her passion into a successful business, the value of identifying the target market when starting a business, and her advice to aspiring business owners.
Canadian entrepreneur Sky McLean is building a hospitality empire with her company Basecamp Resorts. McLean built the modern mountain hospitality brand from the ground up. Born and raised in Ontario, McLean got her MBA in real estate from Schulich School of Business at York University. Her appreciation of the outdoors and winter sports led her to move to Calgary after graduation, where she worked with a local developer. At age 29, McLean purchased her first property, a condo in the mountain town of Canmore that she rented out on Airbnb.
She instantly fell in love with the business model. She raised $2 million dollars of seed money and got a bank loan and in 2017, at the age of 33, McLean opened the doors to Basecamp Resorts Canmore, a boutique modern mountain hotel property with 32 apartment-style suites that provides guests all the comforts of Airbnb but with the amenities and conveniences of a hotel – as well as spectacular views from every angle. Every property she has opened since has been modelled and designed with the same intentions in mind. In addition to running Basecamp Resorts, McLean is active in developing residential real estate properties to provide quality housing in smaller, underserved rural communities. Based out of Canmore, AB, McLean is a wife, mother and an avid skier, snowmobiler and mountain biker.
How will you describe your entrepreneurial journey of building a brand from the ground up and expanding from 1 property to 9 properties, and making it to the top of Canada’s male-dominated Hotelier industry?
Simply put, the journey is indescribable. It is so full of ups and downs, challenges and successes that it is hard to put words to the last five years. That being said, having 9 properties open and having hundreds of people experience my vision on a daily basis is the most rewarding feeling imaginable.
Overcoming challenges while growing a team and a brand in various communities has been a priceless experience. It has definitely been challenging being in two male-dominated industries, hospitality and real estate, but I did not let that obstacle bring me down. In fact, it further motivated me to grow the business and prove to the world that women can do it too. I grew $24,000 to a $500,000,000 company in five years and that is solid proof that it is not only men who can excel in this industry.
How can you strategically find investors who share your dream, considering that investors are essential to the expansion of every business?
I try to gauge my search for investors towards business owners and entrepreneurs in the local communities where we are growing. The appeal of bringing more tourists into these towns is what attracts local business owners and entrepreneurs to invest. It is also critical to find investors who share in my vision and are passionate about the communities I am building in. These factors coupled with the lucrative nature of the business have enabled us to attract the right investor profile to expand the business.
How does it feel to incorporate your own passion into your business as a means to put yourself up for success after creating a brand that allows others to enjoy discovering some of Canada’s most stunning mountain towns?
Being able to be successful in something that I am so passionate about is incredible. People always say, “find a job you love doing and you will never work a day in your life” and that accurately describes the last five years of my journey. Being able to provide people with a “Basecamp” to some of the most beautiful places on earth is an honor and something I hope to continue doing for many years to come.
Building a company is a lot of work. If I wasn’t passionate about the business model, the locations and the people I would not be where I am today.
How important is it, in your opinion, to know what the market demands and pay attention to your target clientele when starting a business?
Understanding market demands and clientele is critical to starting a business. What’s even more important is staying on top of these market trends and customer demands as time goes on. With technology that is evolving ever so quickly, it is key to understand its impacts on business and be able to quickly adapt to ever-changing environments.
What challenges did you encounter on the road to entrepreneurship? And what powerful techniques did you use to get through those obstacles?
The challenges faced on my entrepreneurial path have been endless. From investors committing equity and then changing their mind, to lenders issuing commitments and then pulling them, we have really seen it all. Delayed building permits, staff not showing up, trades people lying to our faces are other obstacles that seem to never end.
However, it is with my powers of persuasion and honest approach to business that have enabled the business to grow and succeed when it sometimes felt that I had nothing but roadblocks. When obstacles present themselves, I get to the root of the problem and use my clear communication skills to understand the issue and develop a solution that is concise and clear.
What specific advice do you offer for budding business owners who want to convert their passion into a profitable business?
Take a risk! There is nothing easy about starting a business but if you never take the leap of faith into the unknown, you will never know what you are capable of. It is also important to build a business that one is passionate about. It takes a lot of discipline, motivation, and hard work but it all becomes worth it when you start to see your efforts paying off.
Another piece of advice is to reduce an idea to practice. In my case, I started with one hotel and proved out the model before moving on to another one. This decreased the risk and allowed me to navigate challenges and avoid making the same mistakes twice.
Lastly, it helps to focus on your own strengths and find others to fill in the gaps. It is important, when the time is right, to build a team full of people who can do certain things better than you. That will allow one to divide and conquer and allow an entrepreneur to work their magic.